Being a native of Sydney, Australia (AKA the world’s third most expensive city in the world), there’s one factor about New York City that I can relate to -The high cost of living compared to the rest of the country.
While the “City that never sleeps” may be an economic and cultural icon of the USA, the inflated price of just about EVERYTHING can sometimes hold little hope for those looking for things to do in New York while travelling on a budget.
I was out on one of New York City’s beaming days of early fall, and came across a place that became one of the highlights from my time in the city. The best part? It was at the perfect backpacker friendly price – free!
This place is the High Line Park found in Manhattan’s Lower West side.
The High Line is a modern linear park that has been constructed on a 1.6km stretch of abandoned railway line.
Despite the immediate area around the High Line Park falling into significant disrepair and abandonment during the last few decades, the transformation of the High Line railway into a trendy park is a great metaphor of the suburb that surrounds it. With the area being given a new lease of life, boutique fashion shops, stylish cafes and restaurants are popping up everywhere around the High Line, making it a great place to wander for a few hours.
In the second half of the 19th century, Lower West Manhattan was the regional hub for the food distribution industry. The area was home to numerous warehouse involved in the packing and movement of meat, fruits and vegetables. The bulk of these goods were moved out of New York by freight rail that ran on street level railway lines.
Quickly earning the nickname “death valley” due to the chaos caused by the mix of trains, cars and pedestrians, it was eventually decided in 1934 to remove the freight trains from the streets by constructing the raised railway line.
As Supermarket chains, national highways and a larger dependency on trucking spread across the country, reliance on freight rail saw a huge drop from the 1950’s onwards.
Commercial use of the High Line ended in 1980 and the parts of the line that weren’t dismantled were left in abandonment.
As we came into the 21st century, the City of New York was making plans to have the rest of the highline demolished. A group of passionate locals saw the potential in the old railway line and put forth their proposal for it to be transformed into a city park.
The idea’s popularity spread quickly and in 2006, the railway line was officially transferred from the Surface transportation Board to New York City. In 2009 the park was officially opened with the second phase completed in 2011.
The park is now a pedestrian-only area, with garden beds housing sections of the original railway lines to remind visitors of its origins. The path impressively zigzags through high-rise buildings and is scattered with park benches, fountains, sun-beds “urban theatres”, murals, sculptures and art. The High Line is also a popular stage for some of New York’s most talented street performers, whose musical talents echo perfectly off the surrounding buildings.
It doesn’t take a visitor long to realise how proud New York is of its colourful history. The New York High Line Park is a perfect example of New York’s commitment to preserving its past in a way that ensures it will be enjoyed by generations to come.